Monday, 18 March 2019
18/3/19 - Thoughts on a Genre
Writers do not write in a vacuum. I may have said this before, in fact I am always saying it. It’s understandable when a story is about a current moment in time, a social commentary is by definition purely about the world around us. Then there’s my genre, science fiction. Now how can that be about the current of state of things I hear you ask?
The sci-fi genre is currently alive and well, popularised by a whole host of big name films and TV shows, no longer the domain of just nerds and geeks. It has been legitimised. From the hard SF of The Martian to the rain slick cyberpunk of Blade Runner, the epic space opera of The Expanse or the technology fables of Black Mirror. Much of sci-fi is a prediction based on current evidence, often extrapolated to the extreme, the nature of such speculation leads to stories that are not always hopeful.
Among the many subjects that has seen a rise in popularity is dystopia, from the post-apocalypse to totalitarian oppression, especially so in the YA sector. But why are we consuming such dire stories and why has it caught the imagination of the young? Could it be our state of mind? Here in the UK we have gone through an era of recession and austerity, an era of suffering that has yet to end. Add to that a growing inequality in the wealth gap and anti-establishment resentment of the political classes and It’s no wonder we are reading downbeat fiction. But are we reading it because we are so fearful? Or because we seek realities worse than our own?
It’s not just societal issues that is driving this trend either, technology is advancing at an exponential rate and those advances have changed the world dramatically, some would say that people are being left behind. The fear of technology and where it may lead is another trend of current sci-fi, i admit it is a topic that has always existed but it’s all the more relevant now. The excellent Black Mirror is the flag bearer of this sub-genre and I think Charlie Brooker’s sinister interpretations hit the nail on the head. He’s had a lot of inspiration to draw on after all. The internet has only existed within a lifetime, our lives have become ever more digitised, and the stories of humans replaced by machine and AI are starting to come true. Science fiction has become real.
It’s not always been this way.
This whole discussion was inspired by one program, The Orville. To the uninitiated, The Orville is half parody and half love letter to Star Trek, something it does it so well. Created by Seth MacFarlane, it’s comedy sensibilities are very much modern, potential sacrilege to some die hard Trekkies. It is a program that harkens back to the Roddenberry era of retro sci-fi and classic Trek. In other words, hopeful science fiction. Positive visions of the future where the allegory and commentary of the real world are presented in a harmless fashion. Gritty realism was not the agenda.
Having said all this, I am not here to provide a sweeping, prescriptivist opinion. It is a broad genre, one that expands beyond what I have detailed here. If you seek it out, you will find it. I guess this judgement is based on what would be considered mainstream, and it is not say that I disapprove, all that matters is that a story is compelling and captivating, whatever it’s genre.
But do we really want every story we read to be quite so doomed?
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